‘Another Nigeria is Possible’ used to be one of the soul stirring slogans of the ‘multitude’ a few years ago. It is a ringing critique of the rentier state in Nigeria and, by implication, a call for end to oil. Well, that ‘prayer’ is being answered, it seems. In the past one week, one topic united Yemi Osinbajo, the Vice-President and Ibe Kachikwu, the Minister of State for oil: the impending death of black gold. Several times before last week, they have separately drawn attention to the coming era of zero oil. They could not have meant that oil will no longer be part of the energy mix immediately because, for years to come, oil will still be with us. Rather, they speak to the situation whereby a combination of factors is gradually dethroning the commodity from the primacy it has enjoyed for much of the 20th century as a source of energy.
In other words, they are re-enforcing the view that oil is following the way of gold – it would somehow still be with us for quite a long time to come but it will not enjoy the primacy it has enjoyed in the energy industry ever again. There is still no knowing what commodity can and will replace oil because oil is such an unusual commodity in the multiplicity of uses to which it can be put aside from its plenitude. However, its combination of prosperity and misery in equal proportions throughout its history and throughout the world as well as the climate change factor have made irrefutable argument for oil to die even if it is still in its youth. Electric cars in particular are almost here to see to that.
The death of oil would normally be a complicated or sensitive issue in an African country such as Nigeria which provides one of the best examples of the ‘paradox of plenty’ or the ‘oil curse’ paradigm worldwide. In fact, ‘Oil and Instability’ used to be a major political economy thesis in Nigerian universities until recently. The external dimension of that thesis seems to be off now because most of the other interests whose hunger for oil made them a threat to oil rich Nigeria have transformed into net oil exporters now. But the internal dimension of the thesis remains in that much of the talk about Nigeria breaking up has origin in oil, be it in the destabilising struggle for control of the predatory state which presides over oil rents, the resultant fragmentation of the power elite between the winners and losers in that struggle, the resort to mobilisation of difference either in agitation for resource control or outright secession and the disfiguring of capitalism itself.
No anti-corruption campaigns against corruption by successive administrations has undone corruption in Nigeria. This would remain as long as oil remains the main source of foreign exchange because the industry is inherently exclusionary and promotional of corruption. It is an enclave economy which speaks the language of big money and technology, not the language of lifting millions out of poverty. In Africa, even national liberation movements that fought their way into power could not help turn into very corrupt rentier states. As such, oil is a permanent waste of time because very few nations have been able to make oil serve the people and such nations have been found almost exclusively in Northern Europe.
Few might, therefore, mourn the death of oil in Nigeria. Not when agriculture, the exact opposite of oil, exists as a ready alternative even though it is also problematic if it hasn’t got the processing dimension to it. Any country that cannot add value to whatever is taken from the ground – be it liquid or solid mineral or agricultural products is wasting its time. That has been the tragedy of oil in Nigeria. To that extent, agricultural triumphalism could also quickly turn out a nightmare if it does not consolidate a processing component quickly. That is to say it is not agriculture in itself that is the future but manufacturing or industrialisation, as complex as it has become. That is the ‘Another Nigeria’ under reference.
Meanwhile, it would be assumed that Nigeria must have already put in place a mechanism or process for managing the transition from oil based modernity to the post oil period. As things do not always work out that way, the hope is that it never comes to everyone waking up one day stranded, thrown into a state of massive siege because no one here has anticipated the twists and turns that must characterise this process and plugged them in the gradual walk away from the ‘oil age’. The fear is that should the phenomenon of zero oil and climate change be allowed to catch Nigeria off guard, the consequences would be truly horrendous, what with a population of nearly or even over 200 million. If the pictures floating from the rage of the elements in the United States are anything to go by, then climate change is the war to be prevented, not won. Inculcating certain adaptations should form part of a continuous conscientisation in our public broadcasting and social media ethics by now.